How much does workplace conflict cost your business? According to a study from CPP Global, workers spend almost three hours per week dealing with conflict. That's almost one month per year addressing tensions in the workplace. Taking the time to develop greater self-awareness of your values and your approach to conflict in a diverse workplace is more important than ever.

Your values are shaped by your cultural background and dictate how you treat others and how you want to be treated. When you work with others who share your values things tend to go smoothly. On the other hand, when you have different values about what it means to be a leader or a team player, for example, misunderstandings and conflicts can arise.

How you approach conflict also has cultural implications. You may prefer to face things head on and talk things out directly. Then again, you might prefer an intermediary.

Reducing workplace conflicts, therefore, starts with you. Here are three tips to help you better understand what makes you and those around you tick.

1. Map your values.

Do you know what your core values are? Even if you can't name them off of the top of your head, chances are you know when they are being violated. If, for example, you value working autonomously, having a colleague or superior asking for minute-by-minute updates can drive you nuts!

One helpful exercise to identify your values is to draw a Venn diagram. It will consist of three quadrants: life context, personality attributes, and life choices. In life context, include the significant factors in your early life, such as where you grew up, information on your family, the type of education you had, your socioeconomic status, and so on. Personality attributes refer to personal traits. For example, are you optimistic, easygoing, funny, serious, a procrastinator? Life choices are the career path you selected, where you live, your friends, and other decisions you have made about your life so far.

Exploring these three circles will give you a more in-depth idea about who you are and what makes you tick. It will provide insights into why you think some things are important and others not. This makes a difference in what you prioritize and what you do not give attention to. It is important to know yourself so you can understand how the choices you make affect others and how their choices affect you.

2. Determine your conflict style.

If you are someone who avoids conflict you probably know it by now. But there are tested frameworks that can give you deeper insight into how you and others deal with conflict. One such model is the Intercultural Conflict Style developed by Dr. Mitchell Hammer. There are two dimensions: one is about communication style and whether you are a direct or indirect communicator, and the other is about emotions and how expressive or restrained you are.

Combining these two dimensions yields four different types of conflict styles: discussion style, which means you are a direct communicator and emotionally restrained; engagement style, which means you are a direct communicator and emotionally expressive; accommodation style, which means you are an indirect communicator and emotionally restrained; and dynamic style, which mean you are an indirect communicator and emotionally expressive.

My own experience coming from New York, where I developed an engagement style to conflict, did not bode well when I lived in Japan. The dominant conflict style there is accommodation -  indirect and emotionally restrained. I could tell it was not going well, but I did not understand why. Eventually, I realized that my style was out of step with the cultural values of Japan and if I wanted to be successful I needed to slow down the pace of my negotiations, tone down my affect and at times use third party mediators to help resolve the issue at hand.

3. Create workplace conflict resolution protocol.

As a part of creating a new team, I have found that at the beginning of any project, before getting into the "what" of the tasks, it is important to establish the "how." Namely how we want to work together. This includes openly identifying what is important to team members and how they work most comfortably. This will, in turn, reveal each team member's values.

Then you can design your process, taking these values into consideration. At some point along the way, it will be inevitable that there will be a disagreement of some sort. Therefore, knowing in advance how you want to manage disagreements is useful. Are you going to talk it out one-on-one? Are you going to call a team meeting? Are you going to engage a third party mediator?

Developing greater self-awareness, of your values and your teammates' values, can help you reduce conflict and get some of your valuable time back.

Published on: Oct 9, 2018